The UK’s biggest selling vape company ElfBar has said the overfilling scandal that hit its brands earlier this year and the looming possibility of a total ban on disposable devices has triggered an “awakening” within the company.
In a rare media interview, the global communications chief for the company’s ElfBar and Lost Mary brands Jacques Xiang Li told The Grocer that: “It made us really look at ourselves and think what kind of company, what kind of brand do we want to have?” he said.
Earlier this year, several ElfBar and Lost Mary devices were found to contain 50% more than the legal limit of liquid nicotine in independent testing. The scandal led to devices being investigated and pulled from shelves at Tesco, Morrisons, Asda and Sainsbury’s.
It also added fuel to calls for a complete ban on disposable vapes, now a genuine prospect under consultation by the government.
Xiang Li insisted that any overfilled devices discovered were due to “inconsistency on our production lines” but the incident had “given us a lesson” and a “chance to correct ourselves”.
The company spokesman went on to claim rivals were continuing to overfill devices – as has long been suspected within the sector – to give the regulation-flouting brands a longer lasting device and competitive edge. Testing by BAT in the wake of the ElfBar scandal found a slew of other disposable brands including SKE Crystal, Smok Mbar, and IVG had also been overfilled, leading to recalls by wholesalers.
“There are a lot of players, for the sake of bigger market share, doing things regardless of where the line is,” Xiang Li claimed.
Despite several negative reports on ElfBar brands over the last year – in May the brand was found in breach of advertising codes by the Advertising Standards Authority, leading it to pull all TikTok marketing in the UK – they continue to be among the best selling in the category. Xiang Li told The Grocer this was “a paradox”. Some industry experts have suggested media coverage of ElfBar’s overfilling served as “a huge free advert” for its brands, informing customers they were getting more juice for their money.
ElfBar’s move to interact with media directly – previously PR had been handled by trade association the UKVIA and later a crisis communications agency – is to “show our transparency” Xiang Li said, and “clarify misunderstandings”. It’s also in response to a live government consultation, which is taking views on regulatory responses to tackling youth vaping. On the table are restrictions on flavours, point of sale displays, packaging and a total ban on single use, disposable vapes.
The consultation “gives us the opportunity to set out what we have been doing to try to remain compliant after all those knock outs,” Xiang Li said.
ElfBar said it was currently in the process of changing flavour names that “might be attractive to young people” across its brands. It’s a similar move to one last month by ElfBar and Lost Mary master UK distributor Supreme across its own-label 88Vape products.
The Chinese company has also launched technology which will make it easier for consumers to separate a disposable device’s component parts, to make them far easier to recycle. The feature which “involves adult users being able to dismantle the battery from the stem [of the device]” will be applied to all products in the future. This comes as recent research on vape disposal by YouGov commissioned by Material Focus found that almost five million disposable vapes are either littered or thrown away in general waste every week.
On the real possibility disposable devices will be outlawed in the UK, Xiang Li said: “Of course we worry. But we’re actually doing something.”